Coaches are fond of saying big-time players make big-time plays.
Two plays Batavia senior Tommy Stuttle made in overtime of last Saturday's Class 7A title game in DeKalb more than qualify, which is partly why he has been named Honorary Captain of the 2017 Daily Herald Fox Valley All-Area Football Team.
Stuttle, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior wide receiver and cornerback, took the field with the Batavia offense to begin overtime.
Following a first-down incompletion, quarterback Riley Cooper spotted Stuttle coming open on a lip route. Lined up far right, he was supposed to run 5 yards forward, spin to the inside and look for the ball.
Instead, Stuttle lengthened the route to 7 or 8 yards before he made the spin because, he said, three Lake Zurich defenders followed red-hot teammate Eric Peterson into the end zone, including, momentarily, the nearest linebacker.
It was the slight opening the Bulldogs needed. Cooper put the ball right in Stuttle's gut after the spin and he only had to lunge 2 yards into the end zone to split the recovering linebacker and a closing defender for the go-ahead touchdown.
There wasn't time to savor the moment. It was the Batavia defense's turn, so Stuttle returned to the field after the extra point to man his customary cornerback spot. The ball found him right away.
On first down Stuttle and the secondary dropped into zone coverage after the snap. Lake Zurich tight end Matthijs Enters, who had already caught 2 touchdown passes, began the play as a blocker at the line of scrimmage but soon released and made a beeline for the front, right pylon with a step on Batavia sophomore linebacker Quin Urwiler.
Stuttle saw Enters release and initiated pursuit before Lake Zurich quarterback Evan Lewandowski ever threw the ball. He caught up to the play, cut between the Batavia defender and Enters, stretched out fully and batted away an accurate pass that otherwise might have been caught for a game-tying touchdown.
"I just got on my horse and hoped that I would catch up to them in time," Stuttle said. "I mean, I barely tipped the ball but that's all we needed at that point."
"That's makeup speed," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "He sees the route, runs under and knocks the ball out of the air. And he was in position on another one in overtime, too."
The two plays represent the season in microcosm for Stuttle, a Class 7A all-state selection.
Offensively, he finished as Batavia's second-leading receiver with 36 catches for 457 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Defensively, he led the area with 11 interceptions -- highlighted by 3 picks in a quarterfinal win at Lincoln-Way West -- and he broke up 12 more passes. He notched 40 solo tackles and assisted on 5 more. He even returned punts.
How did Stuttle, who didn't have an interception as a sophomore or junior, intercept 11 passes this season?
"I don't know. You don't really try to get an interception," he said. "You're just in the right place the right time sometimes. Our coaches are a big part of it."
"He just finds the ball," Batavia all-state safety Michael Niemiec said. "It's like he's playing offense, like the quarterback is trying to throw to him. He gets in the right position every time and it just lands right in the breadbasket. Right place, right time.
"I personally think some of that is due to (secondary) coach (Billy) Colamatteo, and some of it is because (cornerback John) Golden and Stuttle watch more film than anybody on the team. They usually know what routes are coming."
While Stuttle's statistical accomplishments were important, his penchant for leading fearlessly was arguably his most valuable contribution, according to his coach.
"No opponent scared him, "Piron said. "He wasn't nervous about doing anything. He just wanted to get his equipment on and go out there and ball. When there's a guy like that on your team it gives everybody else a chance to grow up. So throughout the course of the season and really in the playoffs after we took that tough loss (at St. Charles North), his confidence in his teammates and his confidence in himself and his abilities allowed everybody else to grow at the appropriate rate until they were all ready to be prime-time players.
"Then other guys started coming on and it was something. Tommy held the mantle of face of the program and did everything required to keep us going with his energy until other guys could expand their roles and their maturity and arrive on the scene."
Stuttle, 18, is a lifelong Batavia resident. He is the son of Batavia graduates Steve and Julie Stuttle. Julie is Batavia's athletic secretary. Older brother, Nick ('15) was a sophomore on the 2013 state championship team.
Crimson and gold runs in the family, which makes winning a state title for his hometown a big-time memory Tommy Stuttle will forever cherish whether he continues in the sport collegiately or not. He is currently undecided.
"It's been the best year of my life," he said. "Senior season is just one to remember. You want to make it as memorable as you can. For most people it's the last season you'll ever have as a football player, so everyone on our team just wanted to make it special. I think the way we did it was just remarkable. I don't even know how else to put it. It was just truly an incredible experience and I wouldn't want to have it with any other guys."